UN repeats call to abolish Sedition Act

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KUALA LUMPUR: The United Nations (UN) has again urged Malaysia to withdraw the Sedition Act 1948, after receiving reports that Putrajaya is increasingly criminalising criticism of the government or its officials.

In a statement, four UN rapporteurs said the Sedition Act was being used in a way that prevents Malaysians from expressing and debating, freely and openly, a diverse range of political opinions and ideas.

“It is time for Malaysia to adjust its legislation, including the 1948 Sedition Act, to be in line with international human rights standards, and take firm steps towards the effective enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression,” they said.

The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s office last month expressed concern about the arbitrary use of the Sedition Act in the country.

The four UN rapporteurs comprise the special rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye; the special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai; the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst; and the special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul.

The independent experts said they had received reports of at least 23 recent cases of persons charged with sedition, including elected members of parliament, politicians, human rights defenders, academics, lawyers, students and journalists.

They said as recently as March, Malaysia had committed to the Human Rights Council to address international concerns regarding the Sedition Act, which they said “outlaws vague offences”.

“We wish to build on this commitment and engage in a dialogue with the Malaysian authorities to end the criminalisation and prosecution of what appears to be legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

“We have offered our support to the authorities in this way forward,” the rapporteurs said.

According to the UN’s press release issued yesterday, its experts had expressed concern about Malaysia’s Sedition Act on several occasions.

“The first UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, Abid Hussain, who visited Malaysia 16 years ago, expressed concerns at the time that the Sedition Act could be used to suppress expression and curb peaceful assembly.”

Yesterday, The Malaysian Insider reported that police were now investigating former Bar Council president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan for sedition over remarks made about the Biro Tata Negara or National Civics Bureau. — The Malaysian Insider

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on October 10, 2014.